Teachers Stumble in Morals Clause Fight

     HAGATNA, Guam (CN) – A teachers’ union must amend its free-speech claims against a new law that requires revocation of a teaching license for “unethical conduct,” a federal judge ruled.
     Writing from the bench, U.S. District Chief Judge Ramona Manglona ruled that the Guam Federation of Teachers’ complaint fails to show actual injury suffered by teachers as a result of Bill 420-32, which the Guam Legislature passed in late 2014 and took effect without the governor’s signature.
     “Where an injury in fact has not yet occurred, plaintiffs must show that they face ‘a realistic danger of sustaining a direct injury as a result of the statute’s operation or enforcement,'” Manglona wrote, citing the Ninth Circuit decision in Thomas v. Anchorage Equal Rights Commission.
     Citing the same case, Manglona said, “But the ‘mere existence of a statute’ is not enough to create an injury; the threat of ‘imminent prosecution’ must be ‘genuine.'”
     None of the teachers’ concerns listed in the complaint – having a child out of wedlock, being intoxicated, smoking in public, practicing nonviolent disobedience or seeking a same-sex marriage license – have a concrete basis and are thus “inchoate and purely speculative,” Manglona wrote.
     She also addressed the concerns of one school librarian, who said in a hearing that the law might affect his ability to select books for the library that angers someone enough to file a complaint that leads to his decertification – although the complaint lacked mention of his concerns.
     “It demonstrates a common defect of the federation’s pleading, which alleges only a generalized chilling of speech and then offers up each educator’s personal nightmare enforcement scenario without any facts that show a realistic danger of it occurring,” Manglona wrote. “Assuming for the sake of argument that a school librarian’s book selections may be expressive conduct, what books was he planning to buy for his library which he now, after the enactment of P.L. 32-236, has decided to forego? Why did he think purchasing those books might subject him to discipline? The court has no facts from which to determine whether the threat the librarian feels the Guam rules pose to his decision-making is a credible one.”
     Manglona did acknowledge that the teachers have legitimate concerns, and gave them a third opportunity to amend their complaint within 30 days.
     “This conclusion in no way denies the legitimacy of the teachers’ concerns,” Manglona wrote. “The law reporters are littered with cases where school boards fired teachers for ‘immoral’ conduct that supposedly set a bad example for students.”
     The Guam Department of Education is operating under a third-party fiduciary, after the U.S. Department of Education placed it under high-risk status in 2003 for gross financial mismanagement and lack of compliance. The third-party fiduciary costs Guam DOE around $4 million a year.

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